Shadow Dancing

I don’t know about you but there’s something about “Groundhog Day” that just brings out the kid in me.  I find it strangely bizarre, yet equally fascinating to watch while some rodents are pulled from their warm dens in front of crowds of people only to “whisper” to their handlers whether or not there will or will not be six more weeks of winter.  And how do they come to this amazing prediction?  It all has to do with whether or not the furry prognosticator has seen his shadow.  Apparently if they see their shadow (meaning it’s sunny outside), the little varmint gets startled and chooses to hibernate for six more weeks, meaning six more weeks of winter.  However if he does not see his shadow, (it’s overcast outside), then he’ll venture out and the theory is we’ll have an early spring.  According to records, their predictions are 39% reliable most years 🙂

The holiday, which began as a Pennsylvania German custom in southeastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, has its origins in ancient European weather lore, wherein a badger or sacred bear is the prognosticator as opposed to a groundhog.   The holiday also bears some similarities to the medieval Catholic holiday of Candlemas.  It also bears similarities to the Pagan festival of  Imbolc, the seasonal turning point of the Celtic calendar, which is celebrated on February 1 and also involves weather prognostication, and to St. Swithun’s Day in July.

The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where crowds as large as 40,000 have gathered to celebrate the holiday since at least 1886.  Other celebrations of note in Pennsylvania take place in Quarryville in Lancaster County, the Anthracite Region of Schuylkill County, the Sinnamahoning Valley and Bucks County.

Outside of Pennsylvania, notable celebrations occur in the Frederick and Hagerstown areas of Maryland, the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Woodstock, Illinois, Lilburn, Georgia and among the Amish populations of over twenty states and at Wiarton, Ontario and Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia in Canada.  ( info. from Wikepedia)

Here in Alberta our buck toothed prognosticator is the famous “Balzac Billy“.   Granted Balzac Billy is a man dressed up in a cute mascot suit because as all Albertans understand only too well that in most years, no gopher in his right mind would pop his little head out of his warm burrow here in Alberta the second day of February.  No, our Albertan gophers know better than to appear above ground until the first day of Spring, (March 20 or 21st) when the frost is out of the ground…sort of…and the Chinook winds have melted the snow away.  Doesn’t matter whether or not their prognosticating cousins in Ontario or Nova Scotia predicted six weeks more or less of winter by mid March the Albertan groundhogs could not care less if they see their shadow or not…they’re just itching to get out of the hole and find some food!  (It’s also interesting that it’s exactly around that time that there suddenly appears in the sky an abundance of hawks, eagles and owls.) Nature is just full of checks and balances!

So while I anxiously await the furry weatherman’s prediction today, I’m also watching the skies…

Do I see a hawk flying overhead?  Run Billy run!

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